Assemblyman Chris Tague (R,C,I-Schoharie), ranking Minority member on the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, is joining Sen. George Borrello (SD-57) in introducing legislation (S.9509) that would disband the Farm Laborers Wage Board, following reports that the board and the governor are prepared to move forward with the proposed reduction of the farm laborers overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40.
In order to prevent the recommendations of the wage board from moving forward, the bill to disband the board would need to be passed during a special session before the final meeting to vote on their recommendations on Sept. 6. Tague, Oberacker, and other Minority colleagues have called for a special session to take place as soon as possible in recent weeks to address pressing matters such as crime and inflation, along with the preservation of the 60-hour threshold.
Tague has joined farmers, agri-business owners, and agricultural advocates in opposing this proposal for months, as they have warned that such a decision could jeopardize the viability of New York’s farms, which already operate on razor-thin profit margins. More than 70 percent of the testimony provided to the board regarding the lowering of the threshold expressed concern about the harm it would cause farms, farm workers, and agri-businesses.
This threat to farmers’ livelihoods has only grown more concerning in recent months, as inflation’s effect on the price of commodities such as fuel and fertilizer has further strained their ability to make ends meet. A report by Farm Credit East has stated that the total cost of lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours, coupled with minimum wage increases, would result in a spike in labor costs by over 40% for New York’s farms.
The proposed lowering of the threshold was also strongly opposed by farm workers, as majority of public comments received by the wage board from farm workers warned against the decision. Many farm workers view the availability of jobs on farms with long hours as opportunities to be seized upon and expressed concern that this legislation’s impact on the agricultural industry would reduce the amount of work available to them. A recent study by Cornell University found that 70 percent of New York farm labor guest workers would not return to New York were the threshold to be lowered and would instead seek work in other states.
“The lowering of the farm labor overtime threshold, already an existential threat to agriculture as we know it in New York state, could not be coming at a worse time for our farmers, who are already facing cost increases because of inflation” said Tague. “This isn’t just about upstate New York either, because the lowering of the threshold would affect anyone who lives in a rural community or shops at a grocery store, lowering the number of locally-grown offerings and putting upward pressure on food costs. The warnings from farmers and the farm workers this proposal intends to benefit have fallen on deaf ears, and it is now up to us as a Legislature to stand up for food security and the preservation of our state’s farms.”
“Since the passage of the Farm Labor Act in 2019, the deck has been stacked against our farmers,” said Sen. George Borrello, Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “It defies common sense and the principles of good governance to place the future of an entire industry in the hands of three unelected individuals. This legislation will correct that by eliminating the Wage Board and its ability to further harm New York’s family farms, which produce nourishing food, enrich our economy and provide employment for more than 50,000 people.”